JERANTUT: The move to shut Taman Negara, one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, for the second time this year to curb the spread of Covid-19, has caught tour operators here by surprise.
Just when chalet and restaurant operators, tour guides and boatmen were getting back on their feet, the latest announcement has left many scratching their heads especially with the monsoon season around the corner.
On March 18, the national park was ordered closed due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) and it was given the nod to reopen on June 15.
Taman Negara Tour Guide Association chairman Mohamad Anas Zainudin said the decision to close the park starting yesterday (Oct 6) had caught tour operators by surprise and the situation was a little chaotic.
“They were informed on Oct 5 that the national park will close the following day. The announcement came at such short notice and even for the Sabah travel restriction, the government agreed to postpone the travel ban to a later date to allow people make the necessary arrangements.
“We understand the authorities are doing their best to control the pandemic but the decision to close the park has to be a win-win situation to both the government and tourism industry players.
“We are unsure when the park will reopen as the statement read that it will be closed until further notice,” he told New Straits Times today.
Anas likened the fate of the tour operators to the Malay proverb “sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga” (it never rains but it pours).
“When the national park was reopened in June, all the industry players rushed to offer low-rate packages in a bid to attract visitors.”
He said the packages catered to locals and the support had been encouraging with bookings of up till end of October.
“Now, those who were supposed to travel here this month have decided to cancel their bookings and tour operators can’t give assurance of when the park will reopen to change the travel dates.
“Most travelers have left yesterday and the national park area is quite deserted today. The situation is similar to MCO with less vehicles and people movement.
“It is a tough time for many of us. Tour operators have been working extra hard to lure visitors here and we need to save for the monsoon season as there will be significant drop in visitors until end of the year,” he said.
Meanwhile, Anas said tour operators in Kuala Tahan had suffered estimated loses about RM1.2 million for October following the move to close the national park.
“Yesterday, I gathered details from those involved in the tourism industry here to check on their bookings and estimated income for one month.
“The situation might be worse for Gunung Tahan mountain guides in Merapoh as hiking activities suspended in March only resumed on Sept 15 and now barely 20 days, they cannot work.
“Some might not have even secured a trip up (as guides) the mountain,” he said there were 40 guides in Merapoh.
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